Chancellor Phil DiStefano gives his State of the Campus address for 2018

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Welcome all, and thank you for attending. 

Before I start, I know we often wonder if we are making a difference day-in and day-out. Let me take a moment to tell you about a young man who says CU changed his life.

Alan Sanchez is a first-generation college student. He is one of our DACA students. As you know, we strongly support our DACA students, and Alan is a key example of why this is so important. He began his career at CU by taking a freshman physics class from Nobel laureate Eric Cornell, and he has known since his freshman year that he wanted to become an aerospace engineer.

When Alan came to CU, he wasn’t sure what an engineer was, and he had never met an engineer. The closest he came to an engineering role model was his father, an H-VAC technician.

Through the faculty, staff and students at Engineering’s BOLD Center—which stands for Broadening Opportunities through Learning and Diversity—he came to feel a sense of belonging and importance at CU, and he says he felt like a valued member of our community.

Now he is completing his final course to earn his concurrent bachelor’s-master’s degree in aerospace engineering, and he has his sights set on a career in spacecraft propulsion. Alan will receive the Forever Buffs Student Award at the annual Alumni Awards Ceremony on Oct. 25.

Key points from Chancellor DiStefano's State of the Campus address 2018

Alan is an inspiration to me, and to all those who have supported him on his CU journey. He is a credit to himself, and he reflects the power of a university community working together.

Alan is watching today by livestream from San Francisco, where he is completing his internship as a test engineer for Tesla. Let's give Alan a round of applause...

Thank you, Alan, for allowing me to share your story.

We are able to transform lives because we share a common vision to be a leader in addressing the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century.

We share the values found in our student-inspired Colorado Creed to act with honor, integrity and accountability; respect the rights of others; accept our differences and contribute to the greater good. These values are reinforced by our Inclusive Excellence Initiative, which I will talk more about shortly.

We share the strategic imperatives to shape tomorrow’s leaders, be the top university for innovation and to positively impact humanity. The progress and success of these imperatives are a direct reflection of you and your work.

Yet we are all in a world today in which higher education is being challenged. We are challenged in our affordability and the value of our degrees, challenged on free expression issues, even challenged on the validity and relevance of our research. Further, we find ourselves in a high-speed environment of change. We are experiencing rapid change in technology, social climate and global disruption—all creating mental stresses. We see that directly in our students, faculty and staff. The effect of these stresses is increasingly a national and global health issue.

And we are in an environment of being 48th in state funding.

So, how is CU Boulder addressing some of these challenges directly? How are we uniquely positioned to become the lead innovator in managing a top public research university with highly valued degrees at an affordable cost?

As a campus, we have committed to exist in a state of continuous change and innovation to meet these challenges.

How is CU Boulder unique? It is your work. Look at what we have done with affordability: our four-year tuition guarantee; the elimination of course and program fees beginning this year; and automatic scholarships for high-achieving Colorado residents, transfer students and low-income students.

Our Esteemed Scholars program attracts our state’s highest-achieving high school students and now comprises 21 percent of our resident undergraduates.

We have students with us here today who are receiving both the Esteemed and the CU Promise scholarships, and I’d like to take a minute to talk about one of them.

As a high school student in Aurora, Sophie Choubai, didn’t think she would ever be able to afford her dream to go to college. Her mother to this day is buried in student loan debt with no degree to show for it, and she struggles to find employment. Sophie is an example of why financially disadvantaged students can be frightened by the prospect of college, even when they have all the potential in the world to succeed.

Sophie's family struggled with food stamps, Medicaid, and to keep a roof over their heads.

But Sophie knew she didn’t want her life to be defined by these hardships, and she was determined to create her own path. She put on a smile and graduated high school valedictorian with a 4.6 GPA last spring.

This year, she was awarded both the CU Promise scholarship for Colorado’s lowest-income students, and the Esteemed Scholarship for its brightest. Today she works as a peer advisor in the Office of Financial Aid and guides students like her toward success at CU.

While away at college this fall, her family lost their home. It makes her all the more determined to succeed. While college once seemed an unattainable dream, her scholarships transformed it into reality. Now Sophie is studying Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and wants to go to medical school. In Sophie’s own words, she is proud to call herself a Buffalo.

I’d like to ask Sophie to stand, to remind us of the students we serve.

Thank you, Sophie, for your perseverance, and your work counseling other CU students.

There are 246 students on campus with stories similar to Sophie’s who are receiving both the Esteemed and CU Promise Scholarships, and three or four are able to be here this morning to join us. I’d like to ask them to also stand.

They are our inspiration and our future. Thank you all for coming. You mean a lot to us.

A four-year degree, by all measures, improves mental wellness, overall health, and earnings. Further, it lowers unemployment rates and debt default rates.

Six months after graduation, 92 percent of CU Boulder graduates are employed, in graduate school or serving in the military. And there is the lifelong value of being connected to the university community—being a Forever Buff—through networking, career services and alumni mentorship.

Thanks to our high-achieving faculty, our students have a unique opportunity to work on new discoveries and creative works at the ground level. Our students are interacting with faculty who are transforming science, innovation, technology and the arts on a daily basis.

They include well over 100 prestigious academy members, not to mention our nine MacArthur geniuses, five Nobel laureates, five National Medal of Science winners, two National Professors of the Year and dozens of other distinguished contributors to their academic disciplines at the national and global levels.

Many faculty also have been engaged in contributing to the Academic Futures Initiative. I have read the full report and am looking forward to getting the final recommendations from Provost Russ Moore and Senior Vice Chancellor and CFO Kelly Fox later this fall.

As we select priorities and begin planning the projects outlined in Academic Futures, underlying them all was the fifth project recommended by the committee: Sustaining, Supporting and Inspiring our Community. The strength of our success lies within our people—ensuring they feel fulfilled and welcome regardless of where they come from, what they believe, who they associate with, and what their roles are on the campus.

As the report states, across the spectrum of faculty, staff and students, there is a desire to do a better job connecting our community.

Much of this has to do with how we exchange and respect widely differing viewpoints and experiences so that we engage and learn from one another. As a campus, we are working to ensure that inclusivity creates a welcoming environment. To that end we will be releasing our Diversity, Inclusion and Academic Excellence plan by the end of the academic year.

The CU System Diversity and Inclusion Summit, Nov. 13–14, hosted in this building, will create dialogue and practices designed to improve our ability to engage and build community with each other.

Part of inspiring engagement is through discussion around free expression—what it is, and our rights and responsibilities. This is tough work and includes many facets.

We have new policies—recently approved by our Board of Regents—to provide clarity on this issue. We have a new website to allow our community members to understand national law, our policies, and their rights and responsibilities. We are working hard to ensure speakers from all viewpoints can effectively participate in dialogue on the campus.

Last week, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Christina Gonzales hosted vice chancellors from our AAU peers across the country around the topic of free expression, and Student Affairs is hosting a series of student forums this month.

It is important for us to recognize that our faculty work very hard, day in and day out, to ensure that all perspectives are represented, that they can be challenged, but in a civil forum. It is often not an easy job, but every one of our faculty is doing it. And we offer support through the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and resources like the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program to help them deal with tough conversations in their classrooms. We are welcoming all viewpoints, encouraging civil discourse and creating thoughtful, critical thinkers.

Learning how to eliminate bias, and be truly welcoming and inclusive to all of our citizens and visitors, is one of our highest priorities. Yet it is one of our most difficult challenges.

This is particularly important as we continue to increase our diversity among students. This year, once again, we brought in our most diverse entering class with underrepresented students totaling nearly 18-hundred-- a 2.4 percent increase over last year. The total number of racial and ethnically diverse minority undergraduates has increased 8 percent over last year. Still, we remain challenged in building a truly welcoming environment so that they will graduate and succeed with their degree.

Diversity makes us better. Noted innovator William Wulf, from the University of Virginia, says that without diversity we would have designs that are never realized…ideas that are never conceptualized…and dreams that are never imagined.

Having a diverse community with differing perspectives is essential to our success as a public research university. We will continue to thrive as an R-1, top research university if we understand-- through the many perspectives of our faculty, staff and students—how we can have a positive impact on humanity.

Diversity brings multiple perspectives that drive innovation through divergent thinking.

You, the faculty and all of the staff and researchers, bring in over a half billion dollars every year in research funding. This contributes to the health and vitality of our community: 75 percent of research revenue is spent locally, including 41 percent directed to local salaries. This year, you brought in a record $511 million dollars—ranging from aerospace, energy, and health, to earth and environmental sciences.

What does our research innovation look like?

Non-perishable vaccines being developed in our BioFrontiers Institute...drones that fly into the vortex of a tornado to gather data that lead to longer warning times…prosthetics that can be reformed to fit different people…a coating for buildings that replaces air conditioners…a Band-Aid stethoscope that gathers continuous physiological data…robots that do chores for the homebound…and injections of trillions of microscopic bubbles into severely injured people—bubbles that preserve life until patients arrive at a hospital.

This is not science fiction. It is university research!

This innovation provides unique research experiences for our undergraduate and graduate students. We continue to have one of the highest participation rates of undergraduates conducting research and creative work, exceeding 2,000 students every year. Several undergraduate students, as well as graduate students, are working on the home robots I just mentioned. Our long-term goal is to have half of our undergraduates involved in research and creative work.

This nation has always relied on its research institutions to advance the health, welfare, safety, culture, security and technology of its citizens. It should be noted: Research universities don’t just automatically receive federal research contracts…they earn them through the reputation of their faculties and by their long track record of innovation and excellence. Year in, year out, CU Boulder increases its federal funding because you continually earn the confidence of federal agencies and other partners.

At a local level, we have the challenge of being 48th in state funding, which accounts for 5 percent of our budget. We have met this challenge by innovating. But we will need to do more. Our four-year tuition guarantee has attracted both non-resident and resident students. First-year retention has increased 3 percent since 2013, to 88 percent—marking progress toward our goal of an 80 percent graduation rate.

We are growing our endowed chairs, endowment and scholarships. This year we set a record in donor giving: nearly $148 million dollars. And we’re sustaining that momentum into the first quarter of this fiscal year. Over the last 10 years, we’ve increased our endowment by 85 percent.

In terms of efficiency savings, this year, through the innovations of faculty and staff, we were able to achieve $5 million dollars in savings from operational and technology efficiencies.

As a backdrop to this, however, we are seeing mental health stress caused by increased speed and complexity of change, technology, social climate and geo-politics.

Demand for mental health services on college campuses is on the rise, including at CU Boulder. Since 2013, we have seen a 40 percent increase in demand for counseling services, which is in line with campuses nationwide. I find this very concerning, and sometimes the outcome is just heartbreaking. We cannot stand by and let this happen.

As a campus, we are rallying together to meet this challenge. We have begun to engage students about campus mental health and services from the moment they confirm their enrollment, and we are expanding our suite of services. New services include walk-in appointments, unlimited workshops and group sessions, crisis intervention and one-on-one counseling and therapy.

Athletics too has taken a leadership role in mental health and wellness, recognizing time-demands placed on student-athletes. Student-athletes have created a group geared toward de-stigmatizing mental health.

Last year, Athletics implemented a Time Management Policy to address the demands on student-athletes. This year begins Year Two of the plan to balance academics, sports and life.

The Leeds School of Business is engaged in research on workplace mental health and wellness, and it’s also incorporating mental health into the business curriculum, so future business leaders know how to recognize and manage these issues.

For staff and faculty, we are also seeing a significant increase in demand for mental health services and interventions. The Faculty Staff Assistance Program has seen an increase in demand consistent with other universities. They have increased staff and adjusted their model, and are continuing to look for ways to meet the demands in a timely manner.

We are prioritizing the mental health of our students, faculty, and staff, and we are using our collective expertise, including research, treatment, prevention, and most importantly, awareness, to improve the experiences of our community members.

We are addressing many issues here at home and on the national stage. A chief component of my role is demonstrating that CU Boulder is a leader in providing a unique education, being a top-tier research university and achieving global and local impact. We can be a leading model through an innovative culture. We can be a bold public institution true to its name. I am your representative, serving on the boards of the Association of American Universities, the NCAA and the PAC-12.

My seat at these tables reflects your work and excellence. It is your research, your innovation in everything from HR management to interdisciplinary teaching, your work in the communities near and far, that puts us on this stage. That includes faculty, staff, and students.

In past years, I have asked for your participation in many of our campus transformative projects, and you have responded-- pitching in on everything from Academic Futures to diversity planning and retention efforts. Thank you for your involvement and dedication to the university. I am committed to deepening our shared governance model and to making that an authentic channel for communication and input.

Help me represent us—nationally and internationally—as the innovative public research university. One that, even in this challenging environment, not only survives, but thrives. Be proud of your role in this success. Bring forward your work and your ideas…so we can lead, innovate and positively impact humanity.

Thank you.

Now I’d like to invite the Dean of the Leeds School of Business, Sharon Matusik, to the stage, so that we can explore these ideas further with questions from her as well as from you in the audience. Please welcome Dean Sharon Matusik.